This spring as farmers in the Mississippi Delta reeled from severe rains, Matt Lohr, chief of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) spent time listening to their stories face to face. He saw 500,000 acres of prime land completely flooded. Yet the fortitude of the producers proved even more striking.
“Some of them had lost everything. Their entire operations had been flooded away, barns and roads and structures gone,” Lohr recalls. “But they were still optimistic, and they were resilient, and they knew they wanted to continue farming.”
It’s those experiences that lead Lohr, approaching a full year at the helm of NRCS, to believe he’s in the right place. As the first active farmer to lead NRCS in 25 years, he balances his pride in representing U.S. producers with a strong dose of responsibility.
His agency works alongside USDA’s Farm Service Agency in times of disaster. In the better times, it supports the adoption of proactive conservation practices to mitigate the effects of severe weather while protecting soils, waterways and forests.
A fifth-generation Virginia farmer, Lohr’s family operates 250 acres including broiler chickens, feeder cattle, corn, soybeans and sweet corn. His parents live on the farm, called Valley Pike Farm Inc., and still help out. A full-time farm manager, Don Carney, oversees operations while Lohr is in Washington.
Lohr and his wife, Beth, don’t know if their children will lead the farm as its sixth generation, but they have ensured it stays in production agriculture, placing it under permanent conservation easement.
“My hope is to install a love and passion to protect the resources we’ve been given,” he explains.
From Practices to Programs
Lohr recalls watching his grandfather and father in the 1970s use a pull-type manure spreader to apply chicken litter to fields. New technology excited them because it enabled precise application.
Now, Lohr is putting those experiences with conservation practices to work, leading a team that has reviewed the 2018 farm bill’s conservation title line by line and recommended rule revisions and improvements for better customer service to farmers.
Lohr believes the agency has an integral role to play in linking agriculture to the needs of consumers.
“By allowing farmers to address resource concerns and giving them the resources to make improvements and to be better stewards, it improves their financial status,” he says.
NRCS Chief Matt Lohr wears many hats. To listen to a podcast with Lohr where he describes his Virginia farm, visit AgWeb.com/Lohr